Charitable Scores: Athletes discuss efforts to give back using sports

Texans player J. J. Watt recently grabbed the nation’s attention when he raised over $37 million for the victims of Hurricane Harvey by collecting donations from over 200,000 people. This money has gone towards items such as food and water for the victims affected by the hurricane. Locally, CHS sports teams also give back to their communities in their own unique ways.

Every year the CHS women’s soccer team raises money for the Dwayne Akin Scholarship Fund. This scholarship was created in honor of the late Dwayne Akin, who was a former assistant coach for the CHS women’s soccer team and principal at Woodbrook Elementary School.

Women’s soccer head coach Frank Dixon said, “(Akin) passed away in 2010, some of the (players) on the 2012 (women’s soccer) team that knew him really wanted to do something to recognize him, so they decided that they would start the scholarship fund.”

The women’s soccer team takes personal donations for the scholarship fund as well as donations at home soccer games. Throughout the season, the women’s soccer team sold spirit wear during every home game and had a raffle drawing during their “Pack the House” night to raise money for the scholarship fund.

Ashley Witucki, varsity women’s soccer player and junior, said she enjoyed raising money for the scholarship fund. “It makes you feel played such a big role in someone’s life once they receive the scholarship. The looks on families faces are priceless and you feel like you played such a big role in their happiness at that moment,” Witucki said.

The winner of the scholarship fund is coordinated through the Carmel Education Foundation. The winner must have attended Woodbrook Elementary School in order to be potentially selected.

Dixon said it feels good to benefit somebody else’s educational experience with this scholarship. He said, “I think raising money for the fund gives you a great feeling, Dwayne lives on through this, he was big on education and he really wanted kids to succeed in academics.”

This year the soccer team was able to $2,000 for the scholarship fund and Witucki said the money raised for the scholarship winner goes to show that the Carmel community stands behind them.

Witucki said, “Not only does [the scholarship] benefit them financially but it also shows them that there’s people in their community that really care about them and the education that they’re going to get. I think it really makes them feel apart of something bigger than themselves to know that Carmel is always going to have their back and are always going to support them in whatever they do.”

At CHS, charity can be created through the actions of one person. This year cross country runner and junior, Thomas Gastineau, started a food drive for CHS students with low-income families through the backpack program at CHS.

Gastineau said “My mom helps volunteer with the food drive at (CHS); the backpack program provides backpacks for Carmel High School students on the weekends so they can go home with food to eat. We have a ton of people on the cross country team and I thought that we could make a huge impact on this organization. I brought it up to my coach and he said it’d be a good idea.”

This is the first year of the food drive, Gastineau and his teammates brought the food to the first meet of the season and they donated all of the food to the school at once. Cross country coach Colin Altevogt said, “We have so many guys on the team, with 160 guys even if 25 percent of them bring (food) that’s a lot and it could really help out the backpack program here.”

Food like canned vegetables, granola bars and pasta can be donated to the program, and individuals can assist with packing, sorting and stocking food donations on Fridays before the backpacks go home with the students. Gastineau said “People would bring money instead of bringing food, (and) they would buy produce on the weekends to put in the backpacks. A lot of people donated macaroni and cheese and ramen noodles.”

Gastineau said he hopes that the food drive will become an annual event and wants it to expand beyond just the cross country team. Gastineau said “I definitely think that we should continue to do the (food drive) each year, I think it’d be great if we didn’t just get the cross country team involved. In future years we (can get) more people involved than just the cross country team and (can make) it a community event.”

Altevogt said he believes that charity is a part of what makes CHS the school it is today. He said, “The students bring a lot of awareness to certain issues. You see in professional sports that a lot of the athletes are really philanthropic and I think our teams do a good job of emulating that as well.”